Images of the U.S. military in Vietnam are part of the American consciousness. But these images are only part of the story. Often, the lives and sacrifices of USAID workers are overlooked, but they too faced enormous danger, joined with the military to deliver supplies to locals, promoted development in dangerous areas, worked with hamlet chiefs and ordinary civilians, and witnessed the unexpected loss of their friends. Some USAID workers even died. Sidney Chernenkoff’s first overseas assignment with USAID was in Vietnam at the height of the war. His service is an excellent example of the complexity and value of USAID’s contributions to a war that remains controversial long after it has ended.
Chernenkoff initially joined USAID after spotting an advertisement in the San Francisco Chronicle that said the agency was hiring for service in Vietnam. He was interviewed, scored highly on a language aptitude test, and was sent to Hawaii for six months to learn Vietnamese. He then boarded a plane in March 1967, arriving in Vietnam just as the war was entering its most intense phase. Chernenkoff worked as a part of the CORDS (Civil Operations and Rural Development Support) program in the town of Tuy Phuoc, about 300 miles northeast of Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City).